Archive for April, 2010

11In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

15What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
Romans 6:11-18

We are blessed in America to no longer live in a place that accepts slavery as the norm. We don’t live with the consequences of owning other humans and controlling their lives to the extent that a slave master controls the lives of his or her slaves. Freedom is a wonderful thing. I appreciate that I have choices that eventually define my life – choices about where to live, with whom to live, what to do with my time, and even who to talk with. Slaves do not have those choices.

In this passage in Romans, Paul makes it clear that we have a choice to make about who we belong to – who our owner is. Will it be sin or righteousness?

As I get older, I’m becoming more and more aware the reality of this principle. The wonderful strength and optimism (and dare I say arrogance?) of youth is believing that you are in control of your own choices. And to a degree that is true. The reality, however, is that when those choices involve sin we become bound to that sin. The invisible cords that keep us attached to that sin are as real as any visible thing that places boundaries in your life. More real, actually. The more we sin, the more tightly those cords are bound.

When we choose Christ those cords are broken. We have the power to untangle them and walk in freedom. They have been cut and we can walk freely. Better yet, we can run and jump and play freely. Each time we choose righteousness, we step further and further away from the cords gaining more freedom.

Each time we choose to sin, however, we allow the enemy to tie knots in those cords that had been cut and begin to re-establish the bonds from which Christ freed us. Every step back into our old life, every obedience to our old self, is an obedience to our old slave master, sin. Every step toward our new life and in our new self are steps in obedience to our new master, Jesus who is righteousness.

Joshua gave the challenge well after the Israelites had entered the Promised Land and shortly before his death:

14“Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua 24:14-15

Joshua was choosing righteousness and freedom. Paul was exhorting the Romans for choosing righteousness over sin. What sin easily besets you, friend? May I encourage you to choose righteousness in that area today? Walk away from the cords that Satan wants to bind you with. Jesus has cut them off and given you the power to choose to walk in freedom from sin – choose righteousness today.

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Me & God Today
The truth is that my prayer life has been declining for awhile. Yet God is so good. He graciously continues to speak to me and to protect and love me. Yet slowly, I was allowing the world to grab my attention and it was pulling me away from God. Yet , God is so good – even when I drift farther away, He pursues me.

This morning, after reading my Bible, I began to update my to do list with new things that needed my attention today. While doing so, God prompted me to put three items of prayer on the list. I don’t usually put prayer items on my to do list, but this morning, I recognized God’s prompting and added the three items to the right of the things I needed to do today.

Let me again say that God is very good. I said that “I recognized” God’s prompting, but I don’t mean to take credit for it – all credit belongs to God, even the credit for me recognizing His promptings. His prompting was so strong, that thankfully, I paused while making the list to actually pray for the items! Making a note to pray, or saying that we’ll pray, and actually praying are radically different things. This morning I paused to pray about the items.

One of the three issues I prayed about related to a new endeavor in our business. We were moving ahead and I was beginning to be uncomfortable about the direction we were taking. So I prayed and asked for guidance. About two hours later, a totally new idea came to my mind that makes SO much more sense than the other direction we were headed. It is less expensive, has less risk, doesn’t impact customer service, and if it results in lower quality I won’t have lost anything for having tried the approach.

God is so good! He prompted me to pray, I prayed, and He answered.

Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
John 16:24 (Jesus is speaking)

Phil & God Today
I went upstairs to tell my husband about the new direction and the goodness of God. After listening to my story, he had his own to tell. His prayer life has also been declining and this morning he was feeling prompted to pray. He began by opening his Bible t read a few chapters, but found himself in an Old Testament book that is sometimes dry and factual – not a place where we hear from God easily. But he prayed, expressing his desire to continue reading from where he had last left off and his desire for God to speak to him. He read seven verses before God responded to the prayer! God began to speak to him about an area of his life that needs refreshing.

God is so good. He prompted Phil to pray, Phil prayed, God answered.

9“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Luke 11:9-10 (Jesus is speaking)

You & God Today?
God is so good! Today He saved Phil & I from ourselves by prompting us to pray – and we couldn’t be happier about it! May we encourage you to take those issues that are on your mind and those areas of your life that need His input and ask God to speak to you? He wants to hear from you, so don’t put it off. We’re really glad we didn’t.

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If you’re reading along with us using the Resting at the River’s Edge reading plan, yesterday you read Numbers 34 and found the Lord defining the boundaries of Israel. He very specifically identifies the boundary lines on the north, south, east and west.

Israel had not yet battled for the land – it was still inhabited by their enemy. It would take much warfare to reach those boundaries. Yet the Lord defined the boundaries for them. As I read the passage, I wondered why God would do such a thing. Why tell them the vastness of their property when it is all inhabited by the enemy? Why tell them the limits of their property, regardless of how big it might be, before they fight their first battle?

As I continued to read, I experienced a sense of peace and wondered if that was the answer to my question. By telling the Israelites the specific boundaries of the land that belonged to them, God was doing several things:

  • He was encouraging them – building courage into them by declaring that the land already belonged to them. They could fight for it with authority and confidence because God had already given it to them.
  • He was giving them peace, because knowing their boundaries also meant knowing that there would be a time when they had conquered the land and battle would stop. When I’m in a battle, knowing that it will end brings me internal peace. It can be easy to fall into despair in the midst of a battle. Knowing that you are fighting a God-ordained battle and that the battle will one day end brings hope and light into the darkness.
  • He was giving them confidence by assuring the Israelites that He already saw into their future and knew what their boundaries were. In the midst of a battle, I love knowing that God already knows the end of the story; He has already seen it and seen me in it.
  • He was also giving them every reason to remain faithful to and humble before their God. All along, the Israelites have been journeying to the land that God has promised them. He was now establishing the boundaries of the land they were to be given.

I see the love and faithfulness of God, even as he tells the Israelites what their boundaries will be in the Promised Land.

Of course, God has established boundaries for us, too. They represent the length and breadth of “land” that we are to conquer and settle. They include many of the freedoms and the authority in which we walk as co-heirs with Christ. We can have confidence when we fight battles to win these freedoms – God has already established that those freedoms are well within our boundaries. We can be encouraged when the battle seems long, knowing that God has already given us the territory.

The boundaries God has set for us also include specific limits for our life and ministry. Many like to think that there are no limits on what we can do for God. I disagree. God has gifted each of us according to His plan and purpose for our lives. To operate beyond His calling on our lives is to be outside our boundaries. That’s not to say that we should never operate outside our spiritual and natural giftings. Often, God calls us to step into the gap and serve in an area in which we’d much rather stay far away from. God will supernaturally supply our need to accomplish His will in that interim position. We show our faithfulness to Him by going wherever He calls and leads. Setting these temporary assignments aside, however, it’s important that we not push beyond the boundaries that God has set for us. Has He gifted you to be an outstanding small group leader? Be satisfied with that ministry, not looking to expand your territory. In America, bigger is always better. In God’s kingdom, living life fully to the boundaries and not beyond is always best.

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So I’ve been really sick this week. Really sick. But my brother’s son was coming to town for the first time in years and he was bringing his new wife with him. We were meeting at mom’s nursing home for a lunch get together. I had secret hopes of making it a special late wedding celebration, but knew I’d only be able to pull it off if I got a lot better. Praise God! I finally began to feel a little better last night, and I actually woke up early this morning. It was one of those mornings where time seems to wonderfully drag by slowly (“I can’t believe I still have an hour before I have to leave”), then all of a sudden it disappears (“How in the world did it get to be ten minutes after I wanted to leave?”).

My first stop was the grocery store to buy a pseudo-wedding cake, hoping they’d have time to personalize it. Hurray! They did. While waiting, I noticed these cutest little cupcakes that I absolutely had to buy for my mom. Their frosting was stringy and hair-like, and they had eyes on top. My mom would love them. It was about this time that I realized my emotions were much more fragile than I wanted them to be. For whatever reason, I nearly started crying while I stared at bakery! I have no idea what that was about…I’m blaming it on being sick for the past week. (I figure I’ve got about one, maybe two more days in which I can blame being sick last week for everything. After that…)

Anyway, I paid for my bakery, along with the wedding and gift cards. I then pushed the cart out the door where there were three young girls trying to raise money for some worthy cause. As I turned the corner to exit, the little bag with mom’s cute cupcakes fell from the seat into the basket of the cart landing on their eyes & hair. “Oh, noooo,” I cried in this high pitched voice that really isn’t mine. The three young girls all turned and looked at me. I looked at them, paused half a second, and then said “I’m having a bad day” as I tried to salvage mom’s cupcakes.

And that’s when God got my attention. What kind of an example was I setting to these three young girls by showing them that cupcakes falling from the basket to the cart is worthy of being considered a bad day? And was I really having a bad day?

Lately I’ve become more aware of how teens seem to pick up the attitudes and actions of the adults around them, and then imitate those attitudes and actions to seem more adult themselves. I see it in teens valuing being overly busy and in complaining about how stressful life is. I had just acted out that the simple misfortune of having your cupcake get a bit smushed is worthy of being considered a bad morning. How foolish is that? And how wrong?

I wasn’t having a bad day (my weakened emotional condition not withstanding). I was physically feeling better than I had in days, I was glad to have the energy and time to get a cake (and doubly blessed to find cupcakes to amuse mom with), I was going to see my nephew who had become an adult since I last saw him, and I was getting to meet his new bride. Not to mention I was going to have pizza for lunch! (Always worthy of celebration in my book.)

I corrected myself almost immediately. The three girls probably think I’m a bit crazy, actually, so I’m still not sure the example I set was a good one, but I corrected the record, anyway. I said something like “That’s not true. I’m not having a bad day, I just dropped my cupcakes. Oh well!” I guess I’m glad I don’t know the girls or there would be rumors all over town that I’m losing my mind!

Seriously, God is speaking to me about how easily I blow negative experiences out of proportion and willingly proclaim my sorry state to others. I’m sorry for that! Lord, help me change that inclination. I want to be pre-disposed toward joyfulness and finding the humor in the situation.

How about you? Do you tend to over-exaggerate the negative and allow it to spill into more of your day than it ought to? If so, I invite you to join me in trying to do better. We’ve been living a lifestyle that isn’t consistent with our faith. Scripture assures us that we are incredibly blessed. When I forget that it’s because I’m looking at the cupcakes as a tragedy instead of a minor mishap hardly worthy of consideration. And it probably means I’m not looking at Christ as much as I ought to be.

Father, we want to see Jesus more today. Thank You!

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1Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 2When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down. 3So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the LORD had burned among them.

4The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

7The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. 8The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a handmill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into cakes. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. 9When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.

10Moses heard the people of every family wailing, each at the entrance to his tent. The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. 11He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? 12Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? 13Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”
Numbers 11:1-15

Moses has been through a lot. Standing up to Pharaoh all those times. All those plagues. The faith required to lead the people to this point. Finally he reaches a breaking point, crying out to the Lord “If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now.”

Wow. Pretty strong statement.

What drove him over the edge? It was the complaining of the people. Moses heard the people of every family wailing. Hearing the people entrusted to his care complaining is what sent him over the edge. I wonder how many times I’ve complained and it caused my pastor to cry out to the Lord in frustration? I don’t complain a lot…but any is too much. It grieves me to think of the impact that our complaints have on the men and women God has sent to encourage and strengthen us.

I could go on about how the people were really complaining about God, or how they were dissing the miraculous provision He was faithfully sending each day, or how the people were begging to go back to Egypt – the place where they were in bondage to slavery. But I won’t. I’ll let you glean those lessons for yourself. Today, I’m grieved that it was the complaining that caused their spiritual leader to doubt himself. “What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me?” he asked God.

Let’s not be people who cause our leaders to throw up their hands in frustration and defeat. Let’s not be people who cause our leaders to doubt their own position and behavior.

Encourage your pastor today!

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The Israelites had the visible presence of the Lord to follow as they wandered in the wilderness. He appeared either as a pillar of cloud or fire. Those of us who trust Christ as our Savior have Him living in us and the Holy Spirit to lead us. Pillar of clouds or fire – visible and tangible; the Holy Spirit’s leading – invisible and usually intangible. How do you follow what you cannot see? How do you grasp what you cannot touch or feel? Let explore some answers to those questions.

Engage your faith.

1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2This is what the ancients were commended for… 6And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Hebrews 11:1, 2a, 6

We grasp the movement of God first by faith – by believing that He is within us and that He wants to teach and lead us. That means approaching Him with confidence that He will teach and lead – He will respond when we pursue Him. It means beginning each interaction with the Lord – whether worship, prayer, Bible study or service – reminding ourselves that He wants to speak to us and will speak to us if we attune our ears to hear Him.

It’s very easy for me to begin to read the Bible in the morning and be halfway through a chapter (or further) when I realize that I’m just reading. I’m not approaching it with an expectation that God will speak to me. There is a world of difference in what I hear from God when I simply read as opposed to when I ask Him to speak to me and I expect to hear from Him. (Even so, I am always surprised when I do hear from Him – how antithetical is that?)

Be “in faith” – believe – that God will speak to you and lead you.

Be predisposed to follow wherever He leads.
Just as you have an expectation to hear from God, have an expectation that you will do whatever He says. A “wait and see” attitude is not only displeasing to God, it is a mask that covers the face of pride, a critical attitude and seeds of doubt.

A “wait and see” attitude pridefully says that you will decide if what God has told you to do is the right thing for you to do or not – if it is best for you. It puts you in the position of being critical of the plans God has for you. It casts doubt that He will enable you to do what He has called you to do. Pride, criticism and doubt are all problems that plagued Job and his friends. I believe God would say to those of us who nurture a “wait and see” attitude, the same thing He said to Job:

4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.

5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?

6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—

7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?

8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,

9 when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,

10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,

11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?

Job 38:4-11

Unquestionably, God is more knowledge and more power than you and I. Sometimes He needs to remind us about that.

If you want to find and follow the invisible, you must believe that He is and be determined to follow Him when He reveals Himself to you.

Friends, I have to pause here and say that as I write this, God is dealing with me so seriously about this issue. I can think of so many times when I have wondered “is this God?” and not been obedient, only to learn later that it was, indeed, God. I can think of so many situations where I have been afraid that others would think it wasn’t my “place” to do something, so I haven’t acted upon God’s leading. I can think of so many situations when I have kept silent when God was prompting me to speak.

Lord, forgive me. Change me – give me a predisposition to speak and act when I sense Your leading.

Readers, may I encourage you to pause and ask God to reveal if this is an area of weakness for you? If it is, repent (agree with God that you have failed Him) and ask Him to forgive you and change your heart and mind so that You are predisposed to follow Him.

Experience God’s presence regularly.

You will more likely be able to recognize God’s leading in your life if you regularly pursue God’s manifest presence. (See my blog “Recognizing the Invisible God” for more on the manifest presence of God.) Regularly do those things that most easily lead you into His presence. Attend church, have your own personal times of worship and Bible study, fellowship with other believers. I find that when I am regularly experiencing the manifest presence of God, I am more likely to see His presence in my life throughout the day. I am more likely to sense when He begins to move and when He settles in. Practice experiencing the presence of God so that you can recognize when He moves and when He stays. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of pursuing God apart from attending church weekly. Worship Him throughout the week, not just on Sundays.

I recommend the Christian classic The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence was a French monk who purposed to find God in the everyday activities of His life. You will be challenged to do likewise by reading it. It’s a short book that packs a powerful punch. There are many versions of it available, so the one you purchase may not look like this, but you can click on the book title above to order it.

Get to know God’s nature and character through Bible study.
While he may act differently with different people because He has created each of us uniquely, He will never act contrary to His nature and character. For example, God’s ways are always loving. Even in discipline, He does so in love, always desiring a restored relationship. His heart is revealed in so many passages, but I like this one:

34“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 35Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Luke 13:34-35

Set aside times to be still before the Lord.
Our culture is fast-moving and it is seldom silent. All that noise and movement makes it difficult to find and see the invisible. After a personal three day retreat with the Lord at a local monastery, my husband described his quiet time alone with the Lord like this:

It’s like every noise and every activity is drawn on our soul. The soul gets over-crowded with such things, so we take an eraser and erase what we don’t need anymore. But the eraser leaves a chalky film behind. When I spent time quietly with the Lord, it was as if He had totally washed the slate board of my soul clean. There were no traces of all the gunk of the previous week. With the noise of my soul quieted, I could more easily see God in the world around me and hear His voice in my ear.

Do what He has revealed to you to do.
Earlier I wrote that we ought to have a predisposition that says “yes, I will follow You.” That’s step one. Step two is actually doing it. Having the predisposition toward obedience doesn’t take us all the way – we must actually make the decision to be obedient and then we must act accordingly.

Be obedient. If you don’t do what you know to do, God is not likely to show you more of the plan! By not being obedient, you are limiting how much of Himself God will reveal to you. He’s typically not going to reveal the next thing until you’ve done the first thing. Perhaps this verse reveals why:

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
James 4:17

We are actively sinning when we are not obedient to what God has revealed as His will for our lives. Deal with the sin if you want to hear more from God. Remove the veil that separates you from Him.

Well, that’s quite a list:

  • Engage your faith.
  • Be predisposed to follow wherever He leads.
  • Experience God’s presence regularly.
  • Get to know God’s nature and character through Bible study.
  • Set aside times to be still before the Lord.
  • Do what He has revealed to you to do.

Where are you weakest? May I encourage you to work in those areas, trusting that God is faithful and will meet you and reveal what you are to do? and may I encourage you to have a “full speed ahead” attitude toward following the leading of the Lord? He will reveal it when we are faithful to believe and pursue Him daily.

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Not a Cloud or Pillar of Fire Anymore
While journeying to the Promised Land, the Israelites lived each moment of each day with the visible presence of the Lord before them. I imagine such a presence would impact the way I lived – that was the subject of my last blog.

God has not given us such a visible presence to follow in our generation (for we walk by faith, not by sight), but He has not left us without a witness. He has not left us without His presence. As the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, God’s presence was with them as a cloud or a pillar of fire. Today, God’s presence is with us today as an internal witness, as Jesus promised:

23Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25“All this I have spoken while still with you. 26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
John 14:23-26

In this passage, Jesus promised two things about God’s presence in the lives of believers:

  • God the Father and Jesus would come to those who love him and obey his teaching. Furthermore, they would make their home with those who love and obey the Lord.
  • The Lord would send the Holy Spirit to teach believers “all things” and remind them of everything Jesus said to them.

Jesus’ promise was that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit would be a part of our lives. Clearly, believers would not be without the Lord’s presence after His death. Jesus made good on the promise of sending the Holy Spirit shortly after His resurrection:

19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” …21…As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
John 20:19-22

Peter makes it clear that the Holy Spirit was for all believers, when He spoke to the crowd on the day of Pentecost:

37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 2:37-38

For those of us who are believers, the Father and Son have made a home in our hearts, and the Holy Spirit has been sent to lead and guide us. The Lord has not left us without His presence. It’s just that His presence is a bit different from what the wandering Israelites experienced. The Israelites looked to the cloud or fire to determine when they should go and when they should stay; we must look to the leading of the Holy Spirit to determine when we should go and when we should stay. The problem I see is that their sign was visible. We, on the other hand, have been given the joy and challenge of following the invisible God.

I purposefully describe it as a joy and a challenge because it is both. God’s wisdom and His Kingdom are a great treasure; it is our joy to search for and discover that treasure. Yet how much easier it would be to have the visible sign of the cloud or pillar of fire.

Most of the time I prefer the joy of the discovery over the routine of following the visible. Yet how does one find the invisible? How does one know when it’s been found? I’d like to look at those issues in this and future blogs, and I hope you’ll give your input, either here as a comment or on the Apprehending Grace Facebook page.

There’s Invisible and There’s Invisible – Manifest Presence and “Every Day” Presence
Scripture is clear that God is always with us (Matthew 28:20). There is never a time when He is not with us. Yet there times when He seems to be “more present” – there are times when it seems as if He has opened our spiritual senses to experience Him in a more “real” way. That is called the manifest presence of God. God has made himself manifest, or “readily perceived by the senses” (as the word is defined by Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary).

It is somewhat easier to follow the invisible God when we learn to recognize Him in our midst. I’ve found that it is easier to recognize His manifest presence than his “every day” presence, especially when we are first learning to see Him.

God has wonderfully created each of us uniquely. And while He is the same yesterday, today and forever, He deals with each of us in ways that are uniquely suited to the personality and gifts He’s put in us. That means He may communicate His presence and His will differently to me than to you. I experience God’s manifest presence as a kind of electricity in the air and an expanding of my insight or knowledge. The spiritual sense of knowing that God is especially near is heightened. It’s difficult to put into words. I think most people would agree with my rather vague description.

Being uniquely created, however, we may enter into God’s presence, or come to experience God’s presence, in different ways. For example, I most often experience God’s manifest presence during worship or when journaling. My husband is a bit more cerebral than me, and he most often enters into God’s manifest presence through personal Bible study and meditation. Some experience it most strongly when serving. It’s important that we never assume that the way we experience God’s manifest presence is the only, best or primary way. God is much bigger than that.

One thing that is common, however, is that people will rarely experience the manifest presence of God unless they include God-directed activities in their lives. If I don’t attend worship services regularly and worship on my own, I limit my opportunities for experiencing God’s manifest presence. When I stop journaling, I no longer experience His presence in that way. When Phil is lax in his study, his sense of the presence of God in his life wanes.

It is one thing to know, intellectually, that God is always with us. It is another thing to experience that Truth. I am not advocating that we operate based on our feelings and experiences, but I am encouraging us to pursue the manifest presence of God. Experiencing it, experiencing Him, will be a tremendous encouragement to you in your walk with the Lord. Experiencing His manifest presence will also help you recognize Him when He moves in a more subtle way.

It’s kind of like recognizing pink because you know the color red. Once you’ve seen the full color, a shade of it holds a memory of the fullness. The same is true with God. Once you’ve experienced His manifest presence, it’s easier to recognize His every day presence

Which makes following the invisible God a whole lot easier, the subject of my next blog.

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15The Tabernacle was set up, and on that day the cloud covered it. Then from evening until morning the cloud over the Tabernacle appeared to be a pillar of fire. 16This was the regular pattern—at night the cloud changed to the appearance of fire. 17When the cloud lifted from over the sacred tent, the people of Israel followed it. And wherever the cloud settled, the people of Israel camped. 18In this way, they traveled at the LORD’S command and stopped wherever he told them to. Then they remained where they were as long as the cloud stayed over the Tabernacle. 19If the cloud remained over the Tabernacle for a long time, the Israelites stayed for a long time, just as the LORD commanded. 20Sometimes the cloud would stay over the Tabernacle for only a few days, so the people would stay for only a few days. Then at the LORD’S command they would break camp. 21Sometimes the cloud stayed only overnight and moved on the next morning. But day or night, when the cloud lifted, the people broke camp and followed. 22Whether the cloud stayed above the Tabernacle for two days, a month, or a year, the people of Israel stayed in camp and did not move on. But as soon as it lifted, they broke camp and moved on. 23So they camped or traveled at the LORD’S command, and they did whatever the LORD told them through Moses.
Numbers 9:15-23

This passage always fascinates me. On a number of different levels.

Visible Presence
God made His presence visible to all the Israelites – in the form of a cloud or fire. Imagine living in a place and time when God’s presence was always within sight! How would that impact you throughout the day? How would it impact…

  • Your actions?
  • Your speech?
  • Your decisions?
  • The way you think about yourself?

I can’t help but think that I’d be a better “me” if I was so obviously aware that God is always so close. Of course, He is always that close (or closer, actually).

Lord, help me to remember that You are always with me – not only when I cry out for help, but ALWAYS! May all my actions be molded Your presence.

Living a Life without a Plan
God made it very clear when and where He wanted the Israelites to go. I’m struck by how little the Israelites knew about their future plans. They had the big picture – the knew that God was taking them to the Promised Land, a place that would be their own, in which they would prosper and in which they would be free to serve their God; but they didn’t have a clue about where they would be tomorrow. Their lives were dependent on whether the Lord’s presence, either in the form of a cloud or fire, descended over the temple or lifted. Where they went depended on which direction the cloud went.

This is so foreign to me! My life is planned. My calendar reminds me what I will do tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. And I like it that way. To live without even being able to plan what I will do tomorrow is pretty much beyond my comprehension. Now I know it was a hugely different society and their life revolved around making the trip to the Promised Land. All the same, when I went to sleep each night, I’d like to have an idea whether or not I was packing up camp when I woke up or continuing life in the same place.

My point is that there is a mindset that they must have had that is radically different from mine. They went to sleep without knowing where they would be the next day – other than knowing that they would be following the Lord. Although the context is quite different, I am reminded of this passage in James:

13Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.
James 4:13-16

I’ve never thought of my planning as a means of boasting or bragging, but I can see how it is. My calendar becomes “MY plans” – I easily lose the perspective of “If it is the Lord’s will.” The Israelites were totally dependent on God to define their schedule, and to the extent that our schedules define our lives, they were dependent on God to define their lives.

Lord, may I always submit my plans to Your plan. Create in me a total dependence on You.

Obedience 101
The Numbers passage makes it clear that the Israelites stayed when God hovered over the temple and they moved when His presence lifted. When the cloud/fire moved, they moved. When it stayed, they stayed. I am tempted to ask: If I knew God’s will as clearly as the Israelites did, would I respond with such obedience? Would you? I’m afraid there’s enough evidence in my life to not be able to answer that question affirmatively. In other words, “Well, I don’t have a track record of always doing so!”

Lord, build in me the desire and impulse to follow closely after you – when you hover, I want to stay put; when your presence moves, I want to follow.

Here’s a little experiment for us: Purpose for today, to respond to every prompting from the Lord that you recognize. I wonder how doing that would change my day? How will it change your day?

Father, I pray that you would open our eyes and ears to recognize Your promptings today! And give us the desire and impulse (and courage) to respond to them.

It’s interesting that the verse that follows the James passage I quoted earlier is this:

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
James 4:17

James is saying that we fall into the trap of allowing our plans to keep us from following God’s will. When that happens, we are sinning. I’m sure this is true of me sometimes.

Lord, make me more responsive to You.

Responding to the Invisible God
But we can’t be responsive to God if we don’t see Him moving. God doesn’t reveal Himself as a cloud or pillar of fire any more (at least I haven’t heard about Him doing that for a couple thousand years!). Our challenge (or at least one of our challenges), is following the invisible God. That sounds like a great topic for my next blog. I’m off to write it. In the meantime, practice responding to what God has revealed. And let me know how it changes your day!

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